The incidence of torching of dalit houses in Mirchpur village of Hissar district is yet another example of the absence of democratic principles and social equality in north India. Mirchpur village finely illustrates us the social reality of this country, where the very presence of the caste structure is otherwise ignored by the chattering classes. This village, nearly 145 kms away from New Delhi, witnessed a ghastly scene of inhumanity and caste prejudice in form of the burning of dalit houses by a mob belonging to Jat community from the same village.
Our fact finding team went to Mirchpur on 25th April. On reaching Mirchpur, we first visited the balmiki basti which was the site of violence, and we soon started our interviews with the people who had actually witnessed this gruesome atrocity on dalits perpetrated by the Jats. We also visited Jat and Chamar localities and tried to understand their perspective with regard to the violence unleashed on 21st of April 2010.
Mirchpur village which has a population of approximately 10000 people, is situated in Narnaund talluk district of Hisar, Haryana. There are various castes groups here such as the Jat, Brahmin, Valmiki, Chamar, Dom etc. The Jat community which is the largest land holding , constitues more than 50% of the population. The tehsil and police station for this village is in Narnaund which is about 9 kilometer away from this village. The police chauki for this village is in Kheri, which is about 4 kilometers away from the village. The village is well connected with Portland-Cement-Concrete (PCC) roads. This village has access to electricity and water supply and a constructed drainage system. The path of the drainage and the condition of the drainage system is something to be looked from the social angle. We found that the drain passed from the direction of the houses belonging to the Jat community to those belonging to the Balmiki and Chamar communities. The houses of Jat’s were built with costlier material and were bigger than the houses belonging to the Balmiki and Chamar communities. One could notice that the dominant communities from the village dumped all their wastes through a drain which ultimately ended up in the two ponds on the side of dwellings of the Balmiki and Chamar community – a fact that was pointed out by the dalits for resulting in communicable diseases in their area.
The operation of caste, power and hegemony was evident in the manner waste was not diverted away from the areas inhabited by the Jats despite favorable topology, but dumped in a way that it accumulated in the dalit dwellings. We were told by the members of dalit community that they did try to make required arrangements to prevent the dumping of drainage water to their area, but were physically opposed and stopped by members of the Jat community, whenever they tried to do so. The manner in which fair drinking water was routed only to the Jat locality and not to the Chamar or Balmiki localities also pointed out to the very visible and well entrenched discrimination
Mirchpur claims to have one of the largest numbers of teachers in Haryana – and most of them are from the Jat community. The village has a school, operating since 1911, which teaches upto the 10th class. At present, the village has two schools- one for girls and the other for boys. Children from the Jat community mostly study in the private school while the dalit students have no other option but to go for the government schools which are economically feasible for them. Due to lack of proper education infrastructure, members of dalit community, more often then not, land up in providing labor services to the dominant Jat community. The village gram Panchayat is dominated by a Jat Sarpanch since the conception of Panchayat Raj system in the village. The members of the Valmiki and Chamar communities have developed their economic standards only through their daily wage labor work.
Historically, Mirchpur village has been notorious for such instances of caste violence. While speaking to the residents of the balmiki basti, many residents spoke about the past record of the violence masterminded and directed by the Jat community. In one of the cases, a mother and son from the Dom caste were paraded naked throughout the village. Around 8-9 years back there was one more incident where the same Jat community torched house of a Kumhar and kicked his familyout of their own village. The present case of burning dalit houses should also be seen in this series of violence and humiliation perpetrated by members of the dominant Jat community. Often over matters of little importance have been enough to instigate violence by the dominant community against the members of the marginalised communities. In this latest incident of violence in Mirchpur therefore, the “dog story” - to be explained later - was merely a pretext to inflict violence on the Dalits. The antagonisms between the dalit and Jat community were very much strong even before the commencement of violence over the “dog incident”.
On 19th April at around 8-8.30 pm, a group of boys from the Jat community, Rajendra (S/o Pali Ram), Sonu (S/o Pappu), Monu (S/o Suresh), Rishi (S/o Satbir) with other 10/15 young Jat boys, were passing through the house of Karan Singh (S/o Tek Ram) in an inebriated condition. Apparently, while passing through Karan Singh’s house, his dog barked at them. Rajendra threw a stone at the dog, while Yogesh, a nephew of Karan Singh objected. . Soon as he expressed his objection, the Jat boys started beating him. Karan Singh somehow managed to calm down the Jat boys. After all this chaos, the Jat youth gathered in front of the house of Rajendra . Ajit Jat, who worked for the police , came over to Karan Singh and ordered him to go to Rajendra'shouse and apologize for “this act”. After getting the message from Ajit Jat, Karan Singh and Birbhan (S/o Man Singh) went over to apologize. But the Jat youths were not at keen in accepting their apology and started beating them up. Jai Prakash, one of the villagers from the Balmiki basti informed us that Birbhan was severely beaten and was taken by Karan Singh to the government hospital in Narnaund and later to the government hospital in Hissar.
The interesting part of this mob violence was that it was unleashed in broad daylight. The incident took place on 21st April 2010. The mob started attacking and burning the houses at Balmiki Basti at around 11 am. Around 400 people from the Jat community including women, carrying petrol started burning the balmiki houses. Moreover, the sarpanch’s son was also seen accompanying the Jat mob. When the members of the Balmiki community came to know that a huge crowd of Jats had started to burn burn their houses, they began to hide themselves in safe places. The caste violence resulted in the burning of around 19 houses. Nearly 20 persons were injured in this frenzy. The police, later on arrested 35 Jat individuals. After this incident, the Jat community leaders called a maha-khap panchayat of 42 khaps on 24th April to find a solution to this crisis - defined by them as the arrest of so many members of the Jat community. We were told by a Jat shopkeeper, Rajesh, that among the 42 khaps called to deliberate, 11 khaps were from the Brahmin community. Harish Chandra Singh, another Jat also told us that the Khap panchayat had given an ultimatum to the government that they should release their people who were arrested in this case before 9th May, or else they would start a massive protest movement.
Another fact that has come out in the present case was the pre-planned nature of the attack. While interviewing a woman from the basti, she explained how the attack took place on the basti. According to her, 400 jats, with batons and petrol, attacked the basti. These lumpens not only burnt the houses but they also robbed the jewelry and cash from the houses. Chander Singh, a 62 years old labourer, corroborated the fact of the incident. The ground floor of his house was totally burnt and precious jewelry and hard cash were robbed from his house. The unfortunate part is that he had collected these precious items with a lot of hard work for the sake of the marriage of his daughter. Meena Kumar, 30, another laborer, whose house was not torched down spoke to us and told us how entire residents of the balmiki basti came around his house to take refuge from the attackers. As Meena Kumar’s house was in the middle of the basti, therefore his house was able to escape such an attack. He gave us a testimony on the intensity of the attack.
As per the villagers' account, a few days before this killing, the Jats had performed a kirya or puja in the Sitla Mata Mandir and announced that they would burn the houses of the balmikis. The police was informed about this well in advance.
As we all know, the village communities are interdependent on each other for their sustenance. The ones, who are at the bottom of the strata in the village, socially andeconomically, are at the worst receiving position if any problem arises in the relationship between the dominant and the subordinate communities. The balmikis of the Mirchpur village are experiencing a similar kind of problem in the village. As most of the land (agricultural land) in Mirchpur village is owned by the Jats. and there are no landowners amongst the various dalit communities the source of income was either through serving the dominant landlords (i.e. Jats) with labour work in agricultural fields or through government jobs. The majority of the dalit population staying in Mirchpur village is involved in labour work. In this scenario, when the caste antagonism between the dominant and subordinate marginalized castes (with limited source of income) reaches its peak, the worst affected in this adverse situation are invariably the marginalized castes. The landlessness and the absolute dependence on the Jat landlord community have caused many problems to the balmikis in this dire situation. Chander Singh and his son’s source of income are through labor services. Now due to the conflict between the two communities, Chandra Singh and his sons have lost their jobs and therefore became restless over the issue of sustaining their family. Similar kind of problems has arisen amongst many balmiki community members.
Due to the burning of the houses, the members of the community have suffered immense losses of food grains, food materials, utensils and cooking instruments. Therefore, the victims have to rely on the government support as they neither have jobs to earn money and provide food to themselves and their family, nor have preserved food grains to somehow manage for a few more days. After this incident, the state government could have played a major role in providing support and aid to the victims but they summarily winded up their work after providing them food for two days. Many people have shifted their kids and women to their relatives'places, with only elderly people from this community left in the village. The whole Balmiki basti of the village is in terror.
Many women have informed us that eve-teasing, passing derogatory-remarks from Jat men are common in this village. Kiran and Rekha told us that young girls have to face these comments all the time – for instance when they go to buy items for daily use, while going to school, while going to colleges in the local buses. In fact Rekha and Kiran said that because of the eve-teasing in buses, many of the girls are forced to drop their education after completing their 10+2.
With regard to the government’s role, many villagers have different opinions. The balmikis directly put the onus of blame on the district administration. When this violent incident was unfolding, 40 policemen were present but only played a role of observers. They didn’t even dare to stop the aggressive crowd. From the facts that have come out through the testimonies of the victims, it appears that government played a supportive role, not for the sufferers but to the attackers. On 25th April, Kumari Shailaja, Union minister visited Mirchpur. In her visit, she announced that the government would give compensation to the victims and also will resettle them in another village.
We met Subhash Yadav, Superintendent of Police, Hissar, SP who spoke in favour of the caste system and with a conviction and faith in the existing social order reiterated the ‘benefits’ of the caste system in terms of social security such as marriage, family and job security. In addition to these ‘benefits’, he gave us a very shocking explanation of this arson and atrocity. He proudly asserted, ‘because of the caste system only these valmikies have been able to save their lives now, otherwise there could have been much more damage and casualty of life. Their caste made them to unite and fight unitedly’.
The Mirchpur Gram Panchayat has 19 members in the Panchayat. Among them, there are two Chamars and one Valmiki. Due to the paucity of options, the dalit communities have no other option but to either support Congress or the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). According to one dalit individual of Chamar caste, “Dalits don’t have any alternative option to choose. They cannot run away from the Jat led parties of Haryana”.
We visited the Jat residential area of the village. One Rajesh from the Jat community said the reason for the violence was due to the domination of the balmikis on entire stretch of the road. The intention behind his opinion was that dalits don’t have right to use public places. But like any other Jat respondent, he rejected any kind of caste or community targeting. He instead blamed the media for creating such fuss. He said nothing wrong has happened here only media is presenting it badly, ‘we should ban media’, he said. While Harish Chander Singh, 56 years old another Jat alleged that Balmiki themselves have burned their houses for government compensation but he also contradicted himself saying that they could not control their kids from burning houses. According to him, dalits were “very cunning and they knew how to snatch money from the government”.
Ajhad singh a teacher from the Jat community said, “Modernity is the main cause for this entire problem. Due to arrival of modernity, we are losing our traditional way of life”. According to him, “in this village everything is well and there is harmony in the entire village community”. In fact, he was admiring this caste based dependency wherein every member of the various caste groups were confined to fixed occupational services. The labor services as mentioned earlier are provided invariably by the dalit community and therefore without their services, the Jats could not sustain their agricultural fields. He refused to accept that this violence has a caste angle in it. He was assuring that everything will be fine after some days, almost suggesting that these incidents were part and parcel of village life. Ajhad Singh was also glorifying the concept of the khap panchayat and argued that this is a good social organization. He stated that the meaning of khap derived from khapte hai - that this organization served the society well.
In Mirchpur village the Chamars and the Valmikis are two major ex-untouchable castes and are geographically located at two different corners of the village. These two castes don’t have harmonious social relations with each other. Caste in this country has its own peculiar nature. Whereby, every caste looks down against the caste lower to it in the order of the Caste system. Caste system does not allow different marginalized groups to come together against their exploitation to stand in solidarity for each other. But in the case of the upper castes, the scene is different. Soon after this incident took place, khap leaders of different castes came together to rescue their people who were arrested in this case. In the Indian social system upper castes have strong caste solidarity and this solidarity comes from their socio-political and economic interests. As we have seen in other cases, the state always, ultimately stands up for the interests of the upper castes. In the Mirchpur violence case, the police were just watching the calamity getting unfolded.
The reason why such violence has become a regular feature of Indian society is primarily because there is deep lacuna of consciousness on part of the state to annihilate hierarchies. The annihilation of caste has till date not become a national issue like other issues such as price rise, globalization etc. In case of Mirchpur violence, we could easily mark out that no politician of high standing has spoken on this issue in parliament. The politics in Haryana is dominated by the Jat community, so no political party wants to go against the Jat community. Therefore there is no criticism from the ruling party as well as opposition and other parties.
In Mirchpur village, the Dalit community is not that much aware about the Ambedkarite movement. The Dalit society is fragmented and not much unity persists among the marginalised. Due to the over dependency on Jats, we can see that even in Gohana and in Jhajjar and now in Mirchpur there is no any strong state level protest from the dalit community. It shows that there is a great dearth of a powerful social movement which can understand and fight against thecaste discrimination of dalits and the marginalised. In Haryana the village economy is such which does not allow dalits to go against the land owner. Therefore, the need of the hour is to immediately implement land reform so that agrarian relation can be changed in the favor of marginalized sections of the society.
The documentary follows: